It’s winter. It’s cold! Our animal friends are hibernating. Many humans also feel the pull to do less physically this time of year. But I’m here to tell you, this is a trap! With shorter days and colder temperatures keeping us indoors, our moods are already fragile. Doing physical activity helps for several reasons. It boosts our “feel good” body chemicals; it gives us purpose; it makes us feel healthier; and manage stress that can build up and lead to other problematic mental health challenges.
But winter is definitely the hardest time of year for us to motivate ourselves to be active. A number of factors contribute to this challenge. Being months away from “bathing suit season” comfortably tucked in wool sweaters, it can be hard to see the value. But now more than ever our bodies need us to move. Having put on a few pounds over the holidays can also dissuade us from exercising because, let’s be honest, it’s harder.
So, maybe we need a trick. Something that will just help us to get going. A springboard. Lucky for you I’ve got one. LESS IS MORE! Humans, myself included, often get pulled into a thinking trap that something isn’t worth it unless we do a certain amount of it. I can’t tell you how often I hear, “I just don’t have a half hour to exercise in the morning,” or “the exercise class is good, but I just don’t have the energy to do an hour these days.” My response? DON’T! Don’t do an hour. Don’t do 20 minutes. Like any other task, the more physical activity feels like a chore that you have to make time for, the less likely you are to do it.
Drawing from the ADHD literature, a very important principle of getting something done that you need to but don’t want to do is to work on it for the amount of time that does not feel overwhelming. Clean your closet for 4 minutes only. Edit that paper for 6 minutes. Whatever feels like “ok, I can do that right now” is the right amount of time. Take this approach to exercise. You don’t believe me? Check out this Stanford researcher who lost 20lbs just by committing to doing two push-ups every time he went to the bathroom. LESS IS MORE!
I know it sounds funny but think small. If it feels like “OK, I can do 5 jumping jacks each time I get off the phone,” or “I can do a 10 second plank before each meal” then do that. Just make sure it’s doable. Before you know it, these will be getting easier. And you may even want to add on. But the good news is, you don’t have to! And I would even caution you about adding too much. The most important thing is to prevent the activity from feeling onerous. Because then you’ll stop. But if you are motivated and adding a little bit each day feels good and works for your schedule, fine. Just watch out for the trap!
Feeling skeptical? I actually used this concept for writing this blogpost. It wasn’t getting done. It didn’t get done over the weekend, when I carved out an hour. It didn’t get done during an afternoon break in my schedule. So I decided, “I’ll just start it on the bus ride this morning and see what happens.” Voila! It didn’t feel overwhelming. I didn’t have other things that seemed to need to fit in that space. This strategy really works for getting moving. Just commit to a bit and surprise yourself.
And if you need some inspiration, here are my two favorite inspirational videos (by kids, of course!):